Bounties of Dorn #8

As always, check out the link above for the rest of the story.

A deep, rumbling groan alerted Dorn to Jexer’s waking. He stomped in to see his fool of an apprentice reaching out to rise from the two beds that cushioned his weight. Dorn reached the bed with a bowl in one hand and blew a handful of dust into Jexer’s nostrils.

His body went limp, and with his tongue hanging out, Jexer moaned, “Dorn-uh?”

“Ya think losing all your life blood makes ya a hero?” growled Dorn, checking the giant’s pulse. Jexer rolled his head to one side in an attempt to shake it. “Good, I coul’ kick ya out right now for bein’ so dumb.”

“Solly,” said Jexer. Dorn breathed out. Jexer would be fine. Covered in stitches, but fine.

“I’m goin’ out on assignmen’today, ye’re not to move,” Dorn said, lifting one of the heavy eyelids Jexer couldn’t keep open. The bounty hunter nodded, to himself and to assure Jex that if he followed instructions, he wouldn’t die. Jexer rested his bullish head—not that he could move it, just that he stopped trying to—on the pillow, his horns pointing at the ceiling.

Dorn trudged out, and thought about what he would do that day all the way to his armory. If he got into trouble this day, neither Greeves nor Jexer would be able to help him. It was the riskiest of operations, undercover intelligence gathering. His distinct figure and presence disguised and discarded, Dorn could walk the streets and find the wand dealer.

He slipped into a dingy burlap cloak. It hid his face, but Dorn never went anywhere without a back-up plan. He lifted his hood and took out a jar of sludge from a nearby cabinet. The gray mass wriggled and bubbled in its container, until Dorn twisted the lid and poured the thing on his face. The gray face warped and smoothed and stretched, creeping over his ears and clearing holes for his nose, eyes and mouth. In the end, his tolerably grumpy visage drooped in the face of an old wood troll. Dorn was a bit too tall to pull it off without a hunchback, and so he grabbed a cane. Pausing in front of the mirror, Dorn shuddered. The malice of trolls was well-known to everyone, but to have such hate staring back at him made his jaw clench in rejection. All but his eyes spoke of loathing for life and joy.

“Just a few hours,” he muttered. He snuck out of his tunnels, and dipped into a back alley of the Great City, appearing to anyone else as a troll who needed supplies, but hated having to barter for them. Only the more curious citizens noticed him and backed away; most others knew that if a person or thing wanted to be seen, they wouldn’t pull their hood low and stare at the ground. Under those hoods lurked danger.

The Green Gnomes had expanded their territory since the new wands hit the black market, but Dorn knew where the center of Gnomish crime lay. The City’s park. It spanned the length of eight or more city blocks, and had been intended for recreation, but no residents used Dervish Park, not any that had honest business being there. The wand dealer wouldn’t be in the park, but Dorn hoped to tail someone to the location by the end of the day. Traditionally, gnomes and trolls left each other alone, but a small seasick-tinged gnome stopped Dorn at the entrance.

“Whatcha doin’ here?” asked the gnome. Not a full initiate, not entirely painted, thought Dorn. The bounty hunter worked his throat, rattling and coughing as a troll would not care to hide politely behind his hand. He opened his mouth to speak, then kicked the runt high, through a tree’s branches and into a pond. A few witnessing gnomes guffawed and slapped their knees.

“Did y’see Benny? Bluffed that troll right into the water, didn’he, stupid spriglet!” These gnomes went back to their loitering, all of them avoiding eye contact with Dorn. He huffed and took his rightful passage into the park. Dorn felt lucky all of a sudden because he didn’t have to hide his disgust; Green Gnomes were everywhere not doing much of anything unless a buyer or supplier appeared on the flowered fields of what should have been the City’s peaceful playground for all ages. For once, faking trollishness was not so hard.

He had to keep moving if he didn’t want to talk to anyone. The Dervish Oak stood within range, a grand miracle of a tree. The gnomes had made their houses in its boughs, able to fit an entire mafia of the putrid buggers. Dorn circled it until he found a stone to sit on, giving off the aura of “don’t approach me, I’m resting.” Then, his eyes went to work, defining each gnome’s job and purpose. One went to collect foodstuffs from coerced farms, another reported in about a potential client of some sort, several buzzed about the downfall of their most talented potion makers, Susalia and Moak.

“That damn Dorn! Who does he think he is, cutting in on our biz?” grumbled one with a pointy hat.

“I heard he got some other hunter in on it. If the hunters start working together…” another trailed off with meaning.

“Poor Willard still won’t talk about what happened to him at Dorn’s place. I bet it was torture!” worried a short gnome with fat ears.

“Stop your blathering!” boomed a bear of gnome. Dorn couldn’t help turning his head to see better.

“Sorry sir!” apologized the gossips, scurrying away to avoid punishment. Pilton, boss of the Green Gnomes, stared after his men in contempt before snagging another by the collar.

“Where are the… goods?” said Pilton, sweeping the area, his eyes slipping over a brown mound of troll flesh as unimportant.

“Gerry hasn’t come back yet, sir,” said the gnome hanging by his shirt. He didn’t struggle or panic to be held up like that, to him it seemed a natural state of passivity.

“Then go get him. We’re backed up to next Wednesday on requests,” said Pilton, throwing his subordinate aside. The smaller gnome bowed and jogged away. Dorn creaked to his feet, and followed, giving Pilton one last venomous glance.

Outside the park, Dorn picked up the trail easily, looping between buildings and carts until the gnome squeezed inside a crack in the back wall of a crackpot mystic shop. Some sort of psychic nonsense. Dorn crouched outside a window, reaching up to nudge the pane open. It took him longer than he would have liked to do it silently, but eventually enough noise reached his ears to form voices.

“What are you doing to Gerry?” whined the gnome.

A woman’s sultry voice answered, “Just an experiment or two, nothing terribly harmful.” Dorn could have hissed and spit like a cornered snake. That kind of voice was to be avoided at all costs and now he’d have to hunt her.

“Well, the boss needs ‘im and the stuff,” warned the gnome. The woman laughed, intelligence and the cruelty of a troll in the same sound.

“Fine, fine, here. Five new types and some old orders. And your friend. Did you know you were followed?” The casual question caught even Dorn off guard. He fought to keep his heartbeat steady.

“What?!” squeaked the gnome.

“It’s true. I can’t seem to get a hold of him, but he’s out there,” she said. Dorn could feel one long, clawed finger pointing at his back. He turned, unable to bear the feeling, and opened the back door.

~ by Rachel Francis on March 2, 2013.

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